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On primary day, an argument for voting by mail

Columbia City Blog

A central New York board of elections commissioner says switching to a vote-by-mail system would both increase turnout and save money.

Bob Howe, the Republican commissioner for elections in Cortland County, readily admits he may be the oddball with this thinking.

But with voting machines costing more than $11,000 each and the need to pay observers to staff polling places, Howe argues mail ballots would be much cheaper.

"All we’d have to do is get scanners and scan the ballots when they come back in and that’s it, done," he said in an interview the eve of state primaries, which are today.

He also said it would be much easier for people to cast a vote.

"I think it’s easier sometimes instead of people saying they can’t come out because of weather or physical disability or whatever," he said. "It would make it a lot easier."

Howe does acknowledge the possibility for fraud or the wrong person filling out a ballot, but he said that’s just as likely with absentee ballots, which are already allowed.

"Who’s going to look over my shoulder in my own home? Unless I was married or something like that, I could always go somewhere and fill in it and seal the envelope and sign it and send it back," he said.

Howe anticipates only about a quarter of registered voters to turn out for the state primary. Polls today are open from noon to 9 p.m.

There are no major state-wide contested Republican primaries, but the Democrats will have their pick for the gubernatorial ticket.

"I don’t see that much in the news or advertising to get out and vote or whatever," he said. "It may be just, ‘oh was I supposed to vote today?’ Or we get phone calls here from people from other parties: ‘Do we vote tomorrow?’ And we have to say no because you’re not of that party voting," he said.

Howe says sometimes when there are elections that have a major impact locally, more people will come out to the polls.

The state recommends printing enough ballots to cover 110 percent turnout, but Howe says Cortland County officials don’t print that many ballots, which saves on expenses.

"We usually put out, depending on the election, about 70 percent," he said. "But that’s to cover ourselves and be sure there’s enough ballots for what may be going on in the county. In our opinion – in my opinion – they don’t need 110 percent."